I coach my teenage son’s Australian football team and I love it. Partly I love it because I enjoy the game of football. Aussie rules is a high scoring, fast moving spectacle that requires a whole range of athletic and mental abilities from its players.
I used to enjoy playing it, and now relish the challenge of drawing together a disparate and variously talented group and developing them into a team who can play great footy together and have fun doing it.
I also love football because of the increasingly rare demands it places on the youth of the i-generation. It is a sport that calls its players to exercise physical courage, teamwork, self-sacrifice, honour, encouragement and discipline for the sake of goals that transcend individual glory. These traits are difficult to cultivate in front of a play station.
A great example of this came from this week’s game. My team has an excellent fullback who has not kicked a goal for a number of years. At three-quarter time we had built up a big lead so I threw him forward and set the team the task of getting him a goal. Ten minutes in – and as a result of a series of selfless passes, shepherds and tackles – he scored.
As the ball sailed through the posts, and with no prompting from anyone, our whole team ran to him from all parts of the ground to celebrate the goal with him. It is just this sort of social celebration that rejoices in the achievements of the other that, for me, makes coaching worthwhile, win or lose.
Despite the real risk of me buying into the Australian over-worship of sport, I can’t help feeling that all this, in a mysterious way, affirms my Christian faith. Surely if the world is the creation of a personal, relational and societal God, then this will be reflected in our greatest human joys being personal and relational and social. At its best sport brings out the reality of these joys.
While not wanting to claim that this offers any conclusive proof that God is real, it seems to me that this argument for God from sport stands alongside aesthetics arguments for God from music or art as just another affirmation that Christian belief deeply resonates with the experience of being human.